Description / Transcription
Lord, we ask now that You would give us grace to hear what we need to hear, learn what we ought to learn from this difficult passage. Teach us Your ways. Keep us in Your paths. Forgive us our sins. Grant us mercy when others sin against us. Open our ears, O God, that we might hear You speaking to us in the Scriptures. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
We come this morning to Genesis chapter 34. If you’re watching for the first time or here visiting, you need to know that we’ve been going through the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, for, well, years, moving verse by verse, sometimes chapter by chapter, through this 50-chapter book. One of the advantages of going through book by book, verse by verse, the Bible is the Bible and gets to set the agenda. One of the hard things, but rewarding things, is that the Bible gets to set the agenda.
You come to passages that you might otherwise wish that you would skip, hard passages, sometimes ugly passages, but things that God has to teach us. All of His Word is breathed out and is profitable for us.
So this may be a story that you’re familiar with, or perhaps one you’ve never encountered and wish you weren’t familiar with, but it’s the next chapter and so we’re going to read from it and see what God has to teach us from it. Genesis 34.
“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”
Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.”
“But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride-price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.””
“The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.””
“Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house. So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.”
“On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.”
“Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?””
The Bible is an honest book. It’s an often earthy book. Sometimes a hard to read book. There are sections in the Bible, good, bad, ugly. This chapter is pretty much bad and ugly. It’s a gruesome story. There are two obvious atrocities. One, the humiliation of Dinah, and two, the humiliation of the Shechemites.
The story is encapsulated in two phrases. Look there in your Bibles, verse 1 and 2, “Dinah went out and Shechem took her.” That’s the first humiliation. Then in verse 25, “Simeon and Levi took their swords and came out against the men of the city.” Dinah went out, Shechem took her; Simeon and Levi took their swords and went out against the men of the city. Those parallel statements give to us in basic form the two atrocities in this passage.
It’s no wonder that God is not mentioned anywhere in chapter 34. It’s quite telling that in the last verse of chapter 33, you see it there? Jacob, as he enters the Promised Land, builds an altar and calls it El-Elohe-Israel, the God of Israel. But of course, after worshiping there and naming the altar the God of Israel, Jacob so radically departs from the God of his fathers. Yahweh, Elohim, is conspicuously absent in chapter 34.
You see at the end of chapter 33, the very last word, El-Elohe-Israel. God is mentioned at the very end of chapter 33.
Look at the very beginning of chapter 35. First word there in English, “God said to Jacob.”
Chapter 33 ends with God, chapter 35 begins with God, and everywhere in chapter 34 there’s no mention of God. That tells us something about this passage.
Everyone in chapter 34 has blown it. No one gets it right. Let’s move through the various characters in chapter 34. We start with Dinah.
We have to try to piece together how old are these children of Jacob here in this story. If you do some math and you remember that Jacob served his Uncle Laban for 20 years and before he could get married to Leah he had to work 7 years and he thought he was getting married to Rachel and then there was the switcheroo and he got married to Leah. Seven days [sic] later also to Rachel. So seven years and say they got pregnant very quickly, that means that Reuben, firstborn, would have been born to Leah in about the eighth year of Jacob’s 20 year service, so he’s there for 20 years, you have some time then to get the collection from the flocks and then leave, so most scholars think the oldest was about 14 when they returned. But we don’t know how much time has passed between chapter 33 when they return and here this incident. All we have at the beginning of chapter 34 is “Now Dinah the daughter of Leah went out to see the women of the land.” So we don’t know how many years or months or time intervened.
When they returned, if Reuben was 14, Simeon and Levi would have been a couple years younger, Joseph maybe was 7. According to Genesis 37, verse 2, Joseph was 17 years old when the conflict started with his brothers, so between and 7 and 17, between returning to the Promised Land at the end of chapter 33 and chapter 37, you figure there’s about 10 years. We don’t know when in that 10-year interval this took place.
Judging by the fact that Simeon and Levi, even though the men are incapacitated, are old enough to go and with swords and kill all of them, they’re probably in their late teen years, early 20s. It would put Dinah something as a late teenager perhaps, and she’s a victim, for sure. She is violated in the most humiliating way by this man, this princely man, who acts anything except as a princely man when he violates Jacob’s daughter Dinah.
There is at the same time, if you look at verse 1, Dinah is a victim, full stop, of course. There is also a hint in verse 1 of what this passage is going to be about when it says that she went out to see the women of the land.
Remember, if you were here earlier in Genesis, there’s been a theme several times that the Canaanite women, the women of the land, repulsed Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah. They did not like their ways, they worshipped foreign gods. That’s why Rebekah sent Jacob away. He [sic] didn’t want Jacob, like his brother Esau, to marry some of the women of the land.
So this statement here tells us something about the dilemma facing God’s people at this point in Genesis. Sometimes when you have hard chapters like this you need to step back and say, “Well, why are we told this? There are hundreds or thousands of stories that could have been told. What purpose does retelling this story serve in advancing the narrative about Jacob and his children?”
Well, one of the things that is sort of a sub-theme is that we see again the outworking of the Abrahamic promise. You say, “Well, where are there promises being fulfilled here?” Whoever blesses you, I will bless; whoever curses you, I will curse.
Even though they didn’t go about their vengeance in the right way, as we’ll see, nevertheless we see what God promised to Abraham. They cursed Abraham’s family and so they are cursed. And again, the holy family, not very holy, despite themselves leave this incident with more wealth than they entered into it. Just like Abraham lies about his wife, Isaac lies about his wife, every time, they can’t get out of their way. They are evil so often and yet despite themselves God continues to be faithful to His promise. So there’s an underlying theme.
But there’s an even more foreground theme in this passage, and it’s hinted at there in verse 1. That’s what this story is about. Why and how are God’s people going to dwell in the land? Because the land’s not empty, it’s filled with Canaanites. How will the Israelites assimilate with the local people?
See, the good news to them is, look, Jacob, you’re back, you have your own place in the world. And yet it’s not your own place. There’s other people in the world.
Verse 1 is certainly not suggesting that Dinah bore blame for what happened. Absolutely not. But it is laying out this big theme for the chapter, because as Dinah goes to see the women of the land, the question is before us, “How will God’s people maintain their unique character and identity as they are surrounded by people who are not God’s people?”
That’s the question for all of us. How do we retain our unique calling, character, and identity as God’s people when we all live among all sorts of people who are not God’s people? We don’t yet have some separate colony on Mars or the moon, and surely we wouldn’t want it. We’re to be in the world, not of the world. We’re to be salt and light. God doesn’t call us to be removed from the world.
But here they are, encamping in the Promised Land, and yet there’s Hivites, there’s Canaanites. How will God’s people relate to these other cultures? And will they retain their unique identity? That’s what this is about. We see hints of it already when we are introduced to Dinah who goes out to see the women of the land.
Dinah is humiliated by Shechem. He’s the next character we encounter. Look at the order of things in verses 2 and 3. Verse 2 says he saw her, he seized her, he lay with her, he humiliated her. That’s the tragic logic of this sexual assault. The word “rape” is not in the passage, but that’s what it is. He saw, he seized, he lay with her, and humiliated her. That’s a good translation from the Hebrew because they saw this as a defilement, as a humiliation, an act of violence, yes, but also an act of utter shame.
Look at the order of the verbs there in verse 3. His soul was drawn to Dinah, he loved the young woman, and he spoke tenderly to her. There is this irony throughout this passage that after he did this to her that he wants to speak tenderly to her. He says he’s madly in love with her. We’d be excused for wondering how you can call it real love when he abuses her and defiles her and forces himself upon her. But after all of that, he’s convinced, “Well, I really love her and I want her to be my wife.” His soul was drawn, he loved, he spoke.
Now listen for just a moment, men, especially single men. This is exactly backwards. He’s drawn, he loved, he spoke. No, you speak to a woman, you get to know her, you love her, and then as you are drawn in your soul to her, you make a commitment in marriage so that you can be drawn together not just in your soul but with your body.
Shechem does things exactly backwards. He sees, ah, yes, she’s beautiful, we can ascertain. He sees her, he wants her, he takes her, he says “I’ve got to have her” and then after he takes her forcibly, then he decides, “Ah, I love her” and then he loves her and then we hear he begins to speak tenderly.
Men, no, start by speaking tenderly. Then show how you love a young woman, then as your soul is drawn to her you make a commitment so that as you are drawn together in your soul, as a reflection you come together with your bodies.
Shechem sees something, and like too many men, he says “I see it and I want it,” and he takes Dinah. He tells his father later in verse 4, “Get me this girl as my wife.” This is a man who’s used to getting what he wants, telling people to go out and find the things that he desires.
Godly men work in exactly the opposite direction of Shechem. We speak with words, we act out of love, we commit with vows, and then we become one with our bodies. Real men do not move in the opposite direction.
We have Dinah, we have Shechem, we have his father Hamor. He’s the patriarch of the family. He wants to give his son whatever he wants. There is no indication that anyone among the Shechemites thinks that Shechem has done anything wrong in violating and humiliating Dinah.
Notice also Hamor is shrewd. He sees this as an opportunity to not only peacefully assimilate with Jacob, remember Jacob is coming with many people and flocks and herds. When it talks about the Shechemites, don’t think of a whole nation-state, but just a family clan, very much like Jacob was. Perhaps somewhat of the same size. We’re talking about dozens of people in Jacob’s family, maybe dozens of people among the Shechemites, which is why Simeon and Levi can kill all of the men. They’re not killing tens of thousands of people.
So Hamor says, “Ah, here’s an opportunity for us to assimilate.” But notice how he sells this deal to Jacob and how he sells the deal to his own people. In verses 9 and 10, he sells the deal to Jacob and the sons by saying, “Look, you’ll dwell with us, we’ll be one people, you can trade among us. We’ll intermarry. This is a great way. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. We’re going to come together. What a wonderful unity we’ll have as Jacobites and Shechemites.”
But then notice down in verses 20 through 23 how he sells the deal to his own people. “These people,” verse 21, “are at peace with us. Let them dwell in the land and trade in it. Then let us take their daughters, as they give their daughters. There’s only one condition. We just have to be circumcised. But,” verse 23, “will not their livestock, their property, and all their beasts be ours?”
He sells the deal to Jacob and his sons, saying, “Oh, we’ll all come together. It’ll be peaceful.” But he sells it to his own people, saying “We are going to get all of their goods.” He sees this as a great windfall for the Shechemites, a way to subdue Jacob and his family under their thumb and get all of their stuff. This was never a good deal.
We notice at the end, when Simeon and Levi take Dinah out of Shechem’s house, this is not good faith negotiations when you, they still have Dinah in their household. It’s not as if Dinah is back and they’re saying, “Could we please marry her?” and “Okay, we’ll think about it.” They have Dinah and they’re making this in no way good faith negotiation.
Which brings us to Simeon and Levi. On the one hand, they’re right to want justice. This is, after all, their sister. This was their full sister, same father, same mother Leah. But instead of justice rightly pursued, Simeon and Levi display a rash, unbridled passion. Like father, like son. As Jacob has so often been a trickster and deceitful, so they’re deceitful and vengeful, and they pursue this unsanctioned holy war.
We know from later in Genesis that God does not look favorably upon their actions. We read in Genesis 49, Simeon and Levi, here’s the final words of Jacob: “Simeon and Levi are brothers, their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly. For they have killed men in their anger, hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce and their fury so cruel. I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.”
So the final judgment upon them is that they did not seek justice in the right way. They took their swords, there’s probably a play on words, they took their swords to the Shechemites just like Shechem took Dinah to be his wife. They hated the Shechemites, it’s written all over this passage, with a deep hatred for the Shechemites.
And what often happens? We become like the very people that we hate. Too often in blinding rage we become like the people who have so angered us, so hurt us. They have a right to be angry, they have a right to be indignant, they have a right to seek justice. But in their blinding rage, they become just like the Shechemites that they so despise, and they also move in by deceit and by force.
In fact, they may have self-consciously been trying to repay the Shechemites in kind. Don’t have to go into graphic detail to make this connection. The very instrument of the human body that was used by Shechem to defile Dinah will be the instrument by which the Shechemites are destroyed. The very male organ that violated Dinah will itself be violated and used to their destruction.
Worst of all for Simeon and Levi, again we can understand the indignation, the anger was proper, the desire for justice, the impetus in a brother to defend their sister, I hope you’re like that, brothers. But worst of all, they carry out their murderous scheme using the sign of the covenant. This was the holy sign that God instituted in Genesis 17 as a part of the Abrahamic covenant, “This shall be the sign for you and for your children after you.” Entering into this relationship with God where God will be your God and we will be His people, this holy sign of circumcision. They turn it into a sign of destruction and the means of deception.
It’s as if you told your enemies, “Well, you just need to be baptized. Just be baptized, and come,” and I don’t mean to say this in a flippant way, but you come and when you are meaning to pour the water, you open up some tank and you drown them, “Ah ha ha ha. There you are, baptized into your death.” They’re taking this holy sign which represented God’s presence and their commitment to God and they use it to deceive and ultimately to destroy the Shechemites.
Then finally we have Jacob. At first glance, it doesn’t seem that Jacob is the problem. He doesn’t do much of anything. But it only takes a moment’s reflection to realize that’s precisely the problem. Jacob doesn’t do much of anything. We have no record of Jacob wrinkling a brow when his own daughter is raped. He doesn’t act when Shechem and Hamor propose a deal. Now, he is upset with Simeon and Levi, but what does he say? Is he upset because they have spilled innocent blood? Does it mention that he’s upset for the defiling of Dinah? Or because they have broken God’s moral law?
No, look at verse 30: “Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me.” Oh, sure, he’s upset, not ultimately about violating God’s moral law or violating his daughter. He’s upset, “Do you see what this is gonna do to me? You just made my life much more difficult.”
We see throughout this passage a lack of control. Jacob should not have allowed his young daughter to go out to see the women of the land. That’s a knock on Jacob more than it is on Dinah, in verse 1. And his boys here are out of control as they seize and violate the men of Shechem, and yet through it all he does nothing. If you notice in the passage, it is emphasized several times, “These are your kids, Jacob.”
Now we know, as parents, that sometimes as our kids get older they make decisions and you learn the older you get as parents you never really had control. So it’s not always the case that rebellious kids mean parents have done something wrong. But insofar as you still have authority over your children, as Jacob would have as the paterfamilias here, he is exercising an appalling lack of authority and oversight, which is why chapter 34 emphasizes so many times these are your children.
Look at verse 5, “But his sons.” Verse 7, verse 13, verse 25, they’re called “Jacob’s sons.” Verse 27, “sons of Jacob.” Verse 1, “Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob.” Verse 3, “Dinah, daughter of Jacob.” Verse 5, “his daughter Dinah.” Verse 7, “Jacob’s daughter.” Verse 19, “Jacob’s daughter.” Verse 11, “Dinah’s father.”
Over and over again it’s emphasized, “you’re their father, these are your children. What are you doing?
Bruce Waltke says in his commentary, “Dinah is an object of passion to Shechem, a bargaining chip to Hamor, a source of moral outrage on behalf of her brothers, and passive indifference by her father.”
Jacob’s indifference is what gets all of this started. His indifference as Dinah wandered about, to look upon the pagan women of the city. Jacob’s indifference as he hears the word of her violation. Jacob’s indifference at the actions of his sons until it comes to rebound on his own life.
So the very end, verse 31, is left as an open-ended question because it’s a question that Jacob himself should have pondered, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” There’s something of a jab there at Jacob. Yes, Simeon and Levi, we know from Genesis 49, they didn’t go about things in the right way, but, “Dad, what were you doing? Didn’t you care that they would treat our sister like a prostitute?”
Jacob allowed Dinah to go unchaperoned to the land. He did not respond with zeal when she was violated. And here’s a lesson, not only for Jacob’s family but it’s a lesson for all of us. When a leader does not pursue justice in the right way, someone else will come along to pursue justice in the wrong way. That’s true politically, that’s true in theological debate. If you don’t have mature, wise, godly people to stand up for the truth, someone else will see that and they’ll stand up for the truth and they’ll do it in all the wrong ways.
Or if you don’t have a leader who will stand up to injustice in the right way, someone’s going to come along with a blinding zeal and do it in all the wrong ways.
There are two wrong responses to evil: The appeasers and the avengers. Sorry, movie buffs.
Jacob’s sin here may have been the worst. That’s why the brothers’ question in verse 31 is left open-ended.
Here again is one commentator: “When spiritual leaders are indifferent to and fail to act decisively about pagan defilements, those who are immature may profane the covenant by their misguided zeal.”
Jacob’s indifference, in other words, left the door open for his sons’ misguided zeal.
Listen, friends, it is harder to see the sin of the coward, but both are wrong. It’s often the sin of the coward that paves the way and opens the door for the sin of the zealot. It’s easy to see the sin of the zealot. Oh, you don’t have the right tone. You’re not doing it the right way. You should have worked through the system. You’re not speaking the truth in love. Those are wrong. But the sin of the zealot often comes because the sin of the coward has come first.
So let’s stop here as we move through our characters and finish by digging a little deeper into Jacob, because the heart of the matter is really with Jacob’s heart. We’ve seen along the way Jacob is growing. He’s being transformed from the Jacob that schemed Esau out of his birthright to now Israel walking with a limp, wrestling with God. But there’s still some old Jacob left in Jacob. In addition to this passivity, there are two huge problems with Jacob’s leadership that lead to the catastrophe in this chapter.
Here’s problem number one in Jacob’s heart. Jacob has not been a man of his word. Go back to chapter 28. Look at chapter 28, verse 20. This is, remember, when Jacob is leaving the Promised Land on his way to Laban up in Haran, before he comes back some 20+ years later. When he’s leaving, here’s what he says: “Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.'”
Here’s Jacob at Bethel, the house of God, where God appeared to him, and he makes a vow that, “When I return, I will come again to my father’s house and this stone will be a pillar and shall be God’s house. This stone right here in Bethel.” He’s making a vow to come back to Bethel.
Well, what happens? He doesn’t quite make it to Bethel, does he? He makes it as far as Shechem. Shechem is in the Promised Land, but it’s about 20 miles north of Bethel, which is why you read at the beginning of chapter 35, verse 1, “God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.”” Jacob was not in the right spot. He promised to God, “When I come back, go right to this very stone because I made a vow, this is where you met me, this is where I’ll return, this is the house of God and I’ll make it the house of God if you bring me back.”
Well, God brought him back and Jacob thought, “Well, it’s good enough to settle here among the Shechemites.” He bought a piece of land, that was an act of faith, but he bought the wrong land. Jacob has never been very good at truth-telling, and here he reaps what he sows. His whole family, from Rachel and Leah to Simeon and Levi to Reuben and Laban, his whole family are always caught up in some deception. They don’t know how to tell it straight. This is so much at the heart of what we might call dysfunctional families, when people cannot just tell the truth. And consequently, Jacob’s actions and inactions in this episode bring a sword instead of the blessing that they should have gotten. They get a blessing the hard way instead of the easy way.
Jacob was not a man of his word. He did not go back to bethel. That’s the first problem.
Here’s the second problem. Jacob had not taken seriously God’s desire that Israel would be his own people, that they would be a people set apart. As God will tell them later in Exodus, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Israel, we’ve seen, is to be a nation set apart from the Arameans. That’s Laban up in the north. They’re to be a people set apart from the Edomites, those are the descendants of Esau, in the south. They’re not the Arameans, they’re not the Edomites, they’re not the Hivites, the Jebusites. They are Israelites.
And yet he has moved in too close to the Canaanites. Hamor wants assimilation. He wants the two groups to merge. He wants livestock and property. But Jacob was supposed to go all the way to Bethel and if he hadn’t camped and built those booths so close to the Shechemites, Dinah wouldn’t have wandered off. She wouldn’t have been fascinated with the women. She wouldn’t have been seized by Shechem.
And here’s a theme that will recur throughout the Old Testament: God’s people are warned against getting too cozy with the nations around them. That’s why later when they come into the Promised Land after the Exodus they’re supposed to remove the Canaanites lest they become ensnared by their practices and their religions. That’s why they’re told repeatedly not to marry foreign wives. Not so much an ethnic thing as it was a religious, spiritual thing.
We’ve already seen Ishmael and Esau took foreign wives, Genesis 21, Genesis 36. Abraham did not want a foreign wife for Isaac, chapter 24. Isaac and Rebekah did not want a Canaanite wife for Jacob, chapter 27 and 28. This has already been a theme. You’re going to have to live with these people, but that doesn’t mean you have to live like these people. They were supposed to be separate. They were supposed to be different.
And Jacob is too concerned with his appearances before his pagan neighbors when he should be concerned about walking closely with his God.
So we have to ask ourselves some hard questions. Ask yourself questions like this: Is my life, and the life of my family, about pleasing God or fitting in? Am I more concerned with how sin offends God, or with how I may seem offensive to other people? Am I entangled with the world in such a way that the world is shaping me more than I am shining as a light in the world? Am I choosing comfort and convenience over conviction and character? Am I choosing cowardice over courage? Am I going along to get along? When I wake up each day, is the beating of my heart to make much of Christ no matter the cost, or is the honest beating of my heart that my life would make sense to the people around me?
Make no mistake. The world is catechizing you. It is. It doesn’t have to lay it out in nice question and answer form. Question: What do you believe about sex? Question: What do you believe about identity?
The world doesn’t do it. That would be obvious. But it catechizes us in the commercials, the movies, in the songs, in the YouTube clips, in the assumptions writ large across our culture. The world is catechizing us. It’s teaching you to live and to be a certain way.
Now the answer is not to say, “Okay, how’s that colony on Mars coming?” No, we live as exiles. Just like the Israelites, eventually we’ll live as exiles in Babylon. They live there and they plant there and they work there and they have to make the best of being strangers in a strange land. But the key is you are strange. Some of you say, “Yes, I knew it.” You’re supposed to be strange. I know America’s comfortable, Charlotte’s pretty comfortable. Do you think this is your home? Because if you think this is your home, then everybody should get along with you here in your home. You ought to fit in. You ought to live just like, but if you have a dual citizenship and you have a better home, and that’s your real home yet to come, and this is an exile home, and we’re thankful for all of the common grace blessings here in America, here in Charlotte, but if we are exiles here, then it means that we are going to look strange sometimes.
Jacob was most concerned not with his daughter, not with his sons, not with the violation of God’s commands, but how do the people around me think of me? Is that what you’re most concerned about? How do the people around me think of me?
1 John 2: Do not love the world nor the things of the world. We are a chosen people looking forward to a Promised Land. Do not build too close to Shechem. He who marries the spirit of this age, the saying goes, will be a widow in the next.
Listen, it is hard, it has always been hard for Christians to be in the world but not of the world. That’s always been difficult for the Church to figure out. We are called to be salt and light, which tells us that we need to be present, not removed. We want to show hospitality with our neighbors. We want to engage our friends with the Gospel. Yet, believing all of that, we the Church, God’s bride, are meant to be a pure, spotless bride. Different, dare I even say separate, because we are saving ourselves for the groom, for Christ.
That’s why throughout the Bible idolatry is linked to adultery, because that’s what it’s like. You’re not saving yourself. You’re not keeping yourselves pure. You want many husbands, when God says, “I am betrothed to you.” Christ says, “I am the One who truly loves you. I’m the One who gives My life for you. I’m the One who died for you. I’m the One who washed you clean with My blood. Why are you running off after other lovers when you have the only husband you need in Christ?” That’s God’s good news to the Church.
We are to be, as a Church, our own culture, an alternative community, and sometimes we are most relevant when we appear to be irrelevant. When the world can say, “Hey, that church, yeah, that’s a lot like us, eh, a little bit different. They do some funny things. They dress up and they have a service on Sunday. Other than that, it’s all pretty much the same.”
We’re much more relevant if people say, “There’s something strange going on in there.” And they’re not going to like everything that we say, everything that we sing, everything that gets preached from this pulpit, everything that gets taught in the Bible.
The dying world needs to be able to look in at the Church and instead of seeing a reflection of itself, see a different world altogether. Because when they see a different world, they may just start asking the question, “How do I get to the next world? Because this world doesn’t feel like my home.” And that will never occur to people outside the Church if the world feels exactly like our home for all of us inside the Church.
Follow Christ, who was put outside the camp, and follow Him in to the eternal life that is to come.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, in this hard passage, good, bad, and a lot of ugly, would You teach us? Would You teach us from the many wrong examples here? Thank You that You continue to bless us despite ourselves. Your promises are true despite ourselves. But help us to learn the lessons that we need to live, to cast aside the allurements of the world, not to put our tents too close to Shechem in our hearts, but to be a holy people, a royal priesthood, a chosen people, as we follow Your chosen One, the Lord Jesus into a better land. We pray in His name. Amen.